Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Poem for Thanksgiving Day


No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.

Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and

being loved by a good woman. Eleven years

ago he was told he had six months to live

at the rate he was going. And he was going

nowhere but down. So he changed his ways

somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?

After that it was all gravy, every minute

of it, up to and including when he was told about well, some things that were breaking down and building up inside his head.
 “Don’t weep for me,” he said to his friends.
 “I’m a lucky man. 
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone

expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”

                                    --Raymond Carver

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Other Program

Here is one of those changes that happen when recovery becomes long-term: Many of us go to --or go back to –Alanon. Some times it’s a sponsor who sends us or maybe we see men and women who have as many years as we do but they seem to struggle less at home or at work or with themselves. And then we find out that they are “double-winners”—people who practice the AA and Alanon programs.

It’s a funny thing about recovery in AA. In the early days we had to learn to be less selfish. We learned to consider the impact of our behavior on other people. We laugh at the Big Book story of the man who comes out of the storm cellar, surveys all the damage and declares, “Look Ma, ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowing.” We laugh. Oh yeah, no one—especially those near and dear-- is applauding that we simply stopped drinking.

So we learn to listen, to consider the needs of others, to concede, to compromise.

But then, if we keep at our recovery, we reach a point where we actually have to learn to be selfish again. You may hate that word and prefer “self-caring”, but really selfish can be a good thing. It’s almost like we have to go back over the old ground again and say, “So what do I want?” and, “What do I need—even if it makes someone else unhappy?” And now, with some sober time, we can learn to take care of ourselves and let other people be unhappy—or deal with their own feelings.  Yes, it’s another one of those paradoxes in the program.

And when we find that it’s hard to know what we want, or to ask for what we want, someone near us—maybe sponsor or a friend in our home group notices. They see that we don’t take care of our needs and we are invited—or sent—to an AlAnon meeting.

This is another reason why we want to keep going to meetings even after years and years of recovery—we want to keep growing in all the ways that—on the surface—have little to do with consuming alcohol, but which have everything to do with living a sober life.

And this too: After many years in AA most of us have friends and probably partners who are, yeah, alcoholics—they may be sober but still it’s our thinking as much as our drinking that keeps all of us coming back.

Rules for beginners in Alanon are the same as in AA: try six meetings, try different meetings, raise your hand, listen to the people with experience, read the literature and even do service. And try not to compare. It’s hard to be a beginner again, but the payoff is that there’s a real multiplier effect from working both programs.

It really is the best of both worlds: To be able to care for yourself and for others with honesty and peace. Detaching with love. Continuing to grow. One Day at a Time.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Five Best Books on Alcoholics

No, not on recovering alcoholics and not the best books on recovery but here is an article from the Wall Street Journal giving author, Lawrence Osborne's picks of the five best pieces of literature depicting alcoholics.

Osborne is the author of "The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey" and an upcoming novel, "The Ballad of a Small Player".  In the article linked below he gives his five picks of the best--and I'll say scariest-- books depicting active alcoholics. If you need help keeping it green any of these five will do.

Of special interest is what he has to say about Stephen King's scary thriller, "The Shining."

Here's the link:

What books would you add to this list of best book about alcoholics?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wendell Berry on Spiritual Progress

A friend shared a poem with me this week that went straight to my heart. It is by Wendell Berry and it describes so well the sensation we have in a long recovery, of coming out of the woods.

Maybe you, like me, have those times when you feel you have barely changed, something hard is happening and you struggle or ache, then you look back to see where you have come from and you realize how far you’ve come and that you really are different.

When we look back we can see where we have been and we can see the graces that were there then. What gives us the strength to go forward is the realization of how far we have come and knowing there was grace. Looking back gives us the faith to go forward.

Here is the poem by Wendell Berry:

We travelers, walking to the sun,
can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

                                                      --Wendell Berry, Given: New Poems

Monday, November 18, 2013

Two New Books About Women and Alcohol

AA members hold onto your hats. In yesterdays Sunday New York Times Book Review Irin Carmon reviews two new books about women and alcohol. It is an excellent review (see the link below) putting the subject of women and alcohol in perspective and updating some of the research--and lack of reserach--on women and alcohol use and abuse.

The two books she covers are:

DRINK--by Ann Dowsett Johnston and

HER BEST KEPT SECRET--by Gabrielle Glaser

Carmon recommends both books but also hold the writers up for a lack of complete analysis--Johnston tends to blame increasing alcohol abuse on women's liberation and Glaser for use of extreme language claiming an "epidemic". But for us in recovery the bad news is that Carmon pulls out only the most inflammatory and ungrounded info about early AA and makes the case that AA does not support women.

Glaser uses the chapter "To Wives" from the Big Book as her example, completely ignoring the history of that book and especially the background of that specific chapter. Glaser never mentions Marty Mann and all of the work on women's recovery and Carmon doesn't call her out on that serious omission.

You are likely to cringe when you read the last paragraphs of the review where Carmon quotes this lazy but provocative excerpt from Glaser including this quote, "Women have been getting raped since AA started."

I'm grateful for both of these books to open the discussion and even debate about women and alcohol but really, where is the journalistic integrity and where is the balance?

Here is the link to yesterdays review of both books. What do you think:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Your God is Too Small (Or Maybe Too Big)

Years ago I read a wonderful book called, “Your God is Too Small” by J.B. Phillips. In it he wrote about how most of us struggle with God or faith because we keep making God too small—we make or imagine him like us or maybe like a human with super powers—but even with the powers of the whole Justice League of America—it’s still a human construct and hence, according to Phillips, too small.

I thought about that this week when I was meeting with some theology students and we were discussing some new ideas in Christian theology and how there are some new ideas about God and evolution and how God may intersect physics and God and Love may be he main construct of evolutionary direction…yeah, that kind of talk.

At one point I said, “But what about a personal God?” and I got the look, and someone said, “Well, I used to believe in a personal God but then I studied…”The message was basically that believing in a personal God was kind of juvenile or “early” in spiritual formation.

I do pick up that slight judgment in other places as well. That look or word that suggests that those who (still) believe in a personal God have not matured in their spiritual development. There’s a kind of spiritual condescension, “Oh, I’m past the personal God thing. Now God is a cosmic force or a New Physics God…blah, blah.

 So me, doing my daily—very personal—prayer starts to feel small—or worse—I feel unsophisticated in my faith.

But then after confessing to my very personal God that I feel small cause I’m not making Him/Her big enough, start to think, “Whoa, isn’t making (perceiving) God as a distant, cosmic, force of the universe just another way to make God too small?” (Yes, irony: in making God so big we make him small again.)

Can’t God be galaxies-wide, loving, an impersonal cosmic force and a personal shepherd at the same time? Why can’t God (we are talking GOD after all) be BIG and small at once?

I think that Hillary Clinton can be the president of the United States and Chelsea’s mother at the same time. So why can’t God be both (and more) simultaneously?

Think about this: If we really grasp the Trinity and if we swear that we believe in this three-in-one business then why not a God who is all: all forms, all types, all sizes, all styles, all dimensions simultaneously?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

More About Kathleen O'Connell's Stages of Recovery

Earlier in the week I posted the stages of recovery as described by clinical psychologist Kathleen O’Connell. She has been writing about recovery since the 1980’s and her book, “Bruised By Life” made an important contribution to the field of addiction studies.

In her book, which is subtitled, “Turning Life’s Wounds Into Gifts”, O’Connell breaks down each stage of recovery and gives specific examples of the kind of changes that happen in each stage and she gives stories showing how the stages also blend and glide into each other.

What I love about her book is that she writes about recovery from the belief that it is addiction that is the problem not a specific substance or behavior—so the book is helpful to all of us whether our issue is food, alcohol, cocaine, sexual behaviors etc. And because her focus is on the healing and transformation.

Clearly, the book is for those who understand that they have an addiction and who want a road map of the route to turning their wounds into gifts. That is not typically a beginner’s perspective. And, truth be told, it’s not a “pink cloud” perspective either. Consider this from O’Connell’s description of her Stage Two:

“In the second year of healing, some people experience emotional crises. Old feelings from childhood surface: without the old behaviors (addictions) to suppress them, these feelings are free to emerge. People healing from any self-destructive behaviors can experience these new found intense feelings.”

Do you remember that stage? Just when you thought, “Well look at wonderful me I don’t drink (abuse food, money, men, myself) any more”, the feelings start to hit hard.

O’Connell reassures us that this is typical, normal and while also hard, it’s a sign of growth and positive recovery. She’s a coach, cheerleader and oh so practical. O’Connell spent years in her own chemical addiction so she knows this process as a professional and as a participant.

I’ll share more from her in the weeks to come.